Universiteit Leiden

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Lecture | Sociolinguistics Series

Explaining infinitival negation in a new contact language

Thursday 7 November 2019
Cleveringaplaats 1
2311 BD Leiden


The presence of explicitly-marked infinitival complements in Sri Lankan Malay (SLM) has been regarded as a radical contact language property, given the complete absence of such a construction from other Malay/Indonesian varieties. This fact and the way the construction interacts with negation require explanation. SLM negation markers are all derived from Malay forms, but their functions with respect to tense and finiteness contrasts reflect contact with Sri Lankan languages. One such form, jang(an), specifically marks negative non-finite verbs, including those that are infinitival. Explanations ought to demonstrate a logical path from the item’s semantic interpretation in Malay to its function in SLM. In previous accounts, jang(an) has been treated as a simple functional extension of what in Malay/Indonesian is conventionally described as a negative imperative marker, also jang(an). This overlooks the question of whether precursors to the infinitival construction in SLM might be found in non-imperative negative constructions in Malay/Indonesian with similar semantic interpretation. These precursors are not difficult to find in colloquial usage, based on available corpora. In a revised analysis based on this finding, the introduction of a finiteness contrast yielding infinitival status for specific complement and adjunct clause types involves a single feature whose introduction is less radical and more economical than in previous accounts. It follows logically from the syntax and semantics of the original construction, while still accommodating a general characteristic of the Sri Lankan linguistic area and discourse culture.

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